SUNRISE (CBSMiami) – The Florida Panthers have been showing signs of improvement of late and are hoping a couple games at home will keep the ball rolling.
Coming off a three-game California road trip in which the Panthers played well despite claiming just two points, the Panthers host the streaking Toronto Maple Leafs tonight at the BB&T Center.
“We had a decent west coast trip,” Panthers coach Bob Boughner said Wednesday morning. “The results and the points weren’t in the bank; it didn’t show for [how well we played] but were playing pretty good right now. Our 5-on-5 game is in a pretty good spot so this is a good test for us. A real good offensive team coming in here, our defensive game has been better so its gonna be a pretty good matchup.”
Toronto has won six of their last seven but are coming off a 4-1 loss to the lowly Arizona Coyotes.
The Leafs (14-8-0) are looking to make the post season for the second consecutive year, though they haven’t won a playoff series since 2004.
Florida meanwhile is coming off a frustrating 3-2 loss in Anaheim in which goaltender John Gibson stood on his head, stopping 50 of the Panthers’ season-high 52 shots on goal.
“We talked about that yesterday,” Boughner said of the loss. “We talked about not getting too frustrated. You should be frustrated when you’re not getting the chances and you’re getting outplayed and you’re trying to look for answers and that’s not the case here. We’re doing a lot of little things good and you keep working that hard and putting that many pucks to the net eventually you’re fortune’s gonna turn.”
Two of the Ducks three goals came on the power play, an area that Florida (7-11-2) has really struggled this season.
The Panthers penalty kill is second-worst in the league at 72.1 percent which could mean a tough night on Wednesday if they can’t stay out of the penalty box.
Toronto boasts the seventh-best power play in the league, converting at a 22.5% success rate.
HAAPALA TO MAKE NHL DEBUT
On Monday the Panthers called up Finnish forward Henrik Haapala from their AHL affiliate in Springfield.
Haapala was signed over the summer after playing his entire pro career in the Finnish Elite League.
The 23-year-old will skate on the Panthers second line with Nick Bjugstad and Vincent Trocheck.
“He’s had some pretty good success down in Springfield,” Boughner said. “He’s a skilled guy, he’s a guy you can bring up and put in your top-6 and give [Trocheck] and [Bugstad] a skilled guy to play with. We liked him at camp, he just needed to get adjusted to the North American game and I think he’s worked hard at it and done that.”
Boughner also said that Haapala will get some time on the second power play unit.
In 11 games with Springfield this season Haapala has seven points (2g 5a) and a plus-1 rating in 11 games.
LUONGO BACK IN GOAL
Roberto Luongo will start in goal for Florida.
Since returning from a hand injury that landed him on Injured Reserve, Luongo has gone 3-2-1 with a .937 save percentage, a 2.32 goals against average and a shutout.
“He’s given us a chance to win every night [since coming off IR],” Boughner said of Luongo. “Sometimes we wish we had a little more goal support for him because that’s all you can ask of your goalie, to give you a chance to win and hopefully not let in any bad ones or cheap goals and he’s certainly done that.”
In 34 career games against Toronto, Luongo has a 20-9-1 record and a .926 save percentage.
- Toronto boasts the league’s second-best scoring offense, putting up 3.71 goals per game.
- Henrik Haapala will wear #25 for the Panthers.
- Over their last 10 games, Florida has only converted on 13.8 percent of their power play opportunities.
- Leafs forward James van Riemsdyk has six points over his last five games (5 goals, 1 assist).
- The Panthers are 0-5-0 in games that they have allowed multiple power play goals.